Religious discussion of human organs and tissues has concentrated largely on donation for therapeutic purposes. The retrieval and use of human tissue samples in diagnostic, research, and education contexts have, by contrast, received very little direct theological attention. Initially undertaken at the behest of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, this essay seeks to explore the theological and religious questions embedded in nontherapeutic use of human tissue.
As organ transplantation is physically possible within a tension between common biological properties and individual immunities, so it is ethically possible within a tension between individual personality in full integrity and the human community of which each member, social by nature, is an organic part. Ethical donation is by consent, explicit or presumed, spontaneously offered or procured by request. Altruism or commercial dealing is now a live issue in organ procurement, whether cadaveric or by live donation, related or unrelated.
An Ethics & Policy Workshop was held with 20 invited UK stakeholders to consider whether embryo donors should be able to restrict the future use of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) created from their embryos. Participants cited tensions between pure altruism and a more reciprocal basis for donation; and between basic research (in which genetic material would never form part of another living being) and treatment applications.